Patterns We Live By
Learning to recognize the unseen patterns that shape our lives and influence our destinies with Dr. Michael Conforti, founder and Director of the Assisi Institute and creator of Archetypal Pattern Analysis.
When did your interest in dreams begin?
It all began with the “boy who would be king”. I was a freshman at City University in New
York, and volunteering at Willowbrook State School, an institution for severely physical and
mentally disabled children. This was shortly after Geraldo Rivera’s expose on the school revealed the truth about its deplorable conditions. While there is much to say about the squalor
these poor children had to live in, this story is about one special child.
I never did know his name, but came to know something unique about him. Each day he
would languish in this back ward, staring into space, into the crevices of the brick wall, and for
all intents and purposes, was lost to this world. Aside from sleeping and eating he spent
virtually every minute of his life in this prison. However each day at 2 in the afternoon, there
opened a crack in his world. This was the time when all the children had a moment of freedom,
and were allowed to go outdoors and play. For many this simply meant shifting their vacuous
stare to the outdoors, and for others, provided a moment to breathe in the fresh air, and for those
who could, would run, somewhere, nowhere, just to run because it was what their bodies needed
Once the doors opened, this king ran with all his might to the garden, picking flowers, which
as was his daily ritual, crafted into a crown which he placed on his head. For those precious
moments his life had changed. His was now a world animated by some spirit, some hope, and
some force which all feared was forever lost. But here in this magical garden, he was crowned
king of his world. Transported to this other world where little boys and girls ran through the fields, picked flowers, maybe even flirted with each other, they tasted something of another life.
I will never forget this experience, this daily crossing of thresholds, this infusion of life into a
world where virtually all hope been extinguished For our little king, this flower garden was his
paradise, his world where he could breathe freely, and even look like other children. Something
profound happened to him though his relationship with the garden and the crown. As though
anointed into a regal position, this symbol was his chariot carrying him on this journey across
worlds, across times. It was this one and only symbol which created the conditions for this
Here I learned not only the power of an image but the power of space and time. This sacred
space of the garden, and this time away from hell, allowed him to find that one image that could
open the door to this other world. Here I learned of the innate energy contained within an
image, of its ability to so dramatically change a life, and how something in us knows how to
create conditions where the divine will manifest.
This is where it all began, a journey now lasting for over 30 years.
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted: A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance:" (Ecclesiates 3: 1-3)
These words so beautifully capture the cycle of life, the unfolding of an archetypal journey. Since the beginning of time, this has been humanities story, and continues on as our story. Jung speaks of neurosis as being out of step with the in-born archetypal journey of life. The stages of life exist as Hermes stones, standing as sentinels at the gate of each and every new threshold.
As we force these dreadful and murderous aspects of the psyche further into the recesses of the unconscious, they gather strength and emerge in a distorted and even more dreaded guise. The everpresence of such violence, hatred, and terror in world history provides more than enough evidence that human denial, religion, repression, and governmental policies are no foil for these unimaginably powerful agencies within the psyche.
We are, once again a nation and a people under siege, from an enemy outside and an enemy within. Just walk down any street for evidence of this siege mentality, where we still find Hummers driving down city streets, and an escalation of violence on many corners. To allow the civilian use of assault weapons is an atrocity and the fact these have not been banned raises the question of culpability for these senseless murders of our children and loved ones. While no one really wants to point a finger, we have to say that in the absence of a deeper psychological and archetypal uunderstanding of these events, there should at least be a ban on the rifles known to be used in many of these shootings. Perhaps it is fair to lay part of the blame on the governmental agencies that coud have made a difference. However, rather than addressing the real issue, they prefer to engage in a rhretoric that reveled in the degree of denial that these casualities wore sneakers and pigtails. While it may be politically and culturally incorrect to lay blame at the feet of our political figures and the agencies they represent, is it really any more difficult to tell a parent that their child has been shot and died from multiple bullet wounds?
To move beyond the veil of governmental policy, the jockeying of the NRA and all of our public outcries, we need to ask what pattern is expressed through this proliferation of violence in the world. So what story is it, what pattern would have these individuals going on these killing sprees, and in turn, our collective response to take arms against them- of against whatever this threatening force might be. What we see is a pattern- a response pattern to a nation and of a psyche under siege. Fearing for their lives, rifles are clung to, arsenals are set up within our homes, and we encourage our wife and husband to buy that little gun “just in case” something happens. This is not an homage to gun control; rather it is an attempt to understand what it is that we really fear.
We are living in a time of terrible paranoia, and yes this is justified by world events, but world events are fueled by psychic events and the exploding of contents from the psyche into the world. In Depth Psychology and the New Ethic, Erich Neumann explained that paranoia, especially collective paranoia represents the projecting of internal contents onto others- the enemy who we see as the ones to be eliminated. He went on to say that while this projection of ones own issues onto the other works for a time, ultimately, we sense that these contents are coming back to haunt us, as they are in orgins really our own.
We are living under siege from these unconscious contents we refuse to accept about ourselves and fight to acknowledge. It is against these internal enemies and contents that threaten us on every front, and it is against their entry into our life that we stand armed, and create illusions of safety while driving our proverbial Hummers. But we are not safe.
It is this very point which takes us to the next unconscious reality behind this issue, from the introduction of Hummers into the market place a few years ago, to the proliferation of civilians buying assault weapons, these both suggest that there is an evolving, deep seated unconscious, psychological reality that we are all under siege. In war time conditions, we grab our weapons and are ready for war, and this is what has now occurred in our country. Unless we begin addressing these deeper unconscious dynamics, all of our legislation will serve to only make the task of buying these weapons a bit more difficult, as it will not address the reasons why we feel they are needed.
After giving a lecture where I discussed the Holocaust, an elderly man approached me. I could see a genuine kindness and compassion in his face, and also sensed that his soul
had seen far too much in his lifetime. He wanted me to re-consider my comment that we could never understand what created the Holocaust and ongoing acts of genocide. Gently, yet firmly he explained that when we stop trying to understand, we open the door open for future occurrences. I immediately realized that I had made a terrible mistake, and apologized to him and to the memory of all the past, present and future victims of these crimes against humanity whose tragic fate may have been sealed by our collective lack of involvement.
Now, yet again we stand aghast looking at the ongoing proliferation of violence in the world. From the slaughter and rape of the young woman in India, to the shooting of Malala, the 14 year old girl who was targeted because she spoke up for girls right to an education, to the current rash of violence in our own country. We have only to look at the news to be reminded of the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, CT, of the Tucson shootings a few years ago, and this most recent horror where after shooting a school bus driver, a man held a five (5) year old boy hostage in a bunker for days.
While there are fundamental differences between the Holocaust, acts of genocide and these killings, they may, nevertheless have similar origins within the psyche. Our collective response to these atrocities and tragedies is one of rage, horror, retaliation, and cries for more governmental control. While these are to some extent appropriate and meaningful responses, they neglect to
address the core issues.
Now in yet another effort to manage this issue of collective
violence, we hear the collective refrain, singing of gun control and the ban on assault weapons. Governmental agencies and individuals are lined up on both sides of this issue, positioned either for or against a ban on assault weapons. As we have learned, these assault weapons are semi-automatic guns able to shoot a large round of bullets within seconds. After the recent Newtown shootings, where the shooter, Adam Lanza, used a 233-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to fire more than 100 bullets during this massacre, we are now all painfully aware of the capability of assault weapons.
The chilling reality is that many of these children and their
teachers died after being shot multiple times with this rapid fire rifle, and never had a chance to escape from the barrage of bullets ripping through their bodies. While virtually every hunter would tell you that a single shot rifle is more than enough of a weapon to kill their prey, and see absolutely no need for such guns in the civilian world, our government continues to allow the sale and purchase of these weapons.
As we approach this issue from an archetypal perspective, we have to ask what God or demon is sated by the presence of these weapons. So too, we now ask what is the government’s conscious and unconscious need to support
the ownership of these guns within the collective? Has this served to support the proliferation of violence and on a deeper level, to once again provide the necessary tools for this violent and demonic presence dwelling within the human heart and psyche, free reign?
Elie Wiesel, as one of the last living survivors of the
Holocaust, will never forget that with each day the world failed to intervene in stopping the madness occurring daily in the camps, hundreds of thousands of innocent people died. He reminds us that the world leaders in the United States and Great Britain who had surveillance photos of the camps’and pictures of the daily atrocities and killings, knew full well of the extent of these atrocities, yet waited day after day before engaging the troops. To have brought the soldiers in just one day earlier would have saved the lives of thousands of men, women and children held in these camps. Wiesel stands against the silence, and associates the fear of speaking as akin to being an accomplice to these acts. Culpability for all these past, present and future murders rests on many shoulders.
Now we all live in fear of the next assault, and with the
scepter of individual and collective fear and collective paranoia staining the air, we take up arms against this enemy. Gun sales have suddenly escalated to unprecedented numbers. With rifle, and pistol in hand, we arm ourselves against these external threats, and buy yet more ammunition, board up our homes, call for increased security in schools and churches and continue on in this march to fortify our world; believing we are now impervious against these threats. While this fear is clearly justified by the contemporary and past events, we need more than a pragmatic, instinctive response to these situations, if we hope to ever gain any footing against these horrors. As each and every one of these events represents an eruption of psychic contents into the world, it is now imperative to understand the psychic and archetypal forces driving these events. We have to ask what it is that we truly fear and perhaps the most difficult question may be to ask if this dreaded enemy lives within our own home.
As we force these dreadful and murderous aspects of the psyche further into the recesses of our mind, they gather strength and emerge in a distorted and even more dreaded guise. The ever present awareness of such violence and terror in world history provides more than enough evidence that human denial, religion, repression, and governmental policies are no foil for these unimaginably powerful agencies within the psyche. We are once again a nation under siege. Perhaps the most important consideration is not merely how to stop the purchase of weapons, but rather – who is the enemy holding us collectively hostage in a prison of unconscious terror and what can do to win our freedom and reclaim our collective safety?
Elie Wiesel once commented that the true hero cares more about the spiritual welfare of their community than for their own needs. So how is it that with the perennial wisdom on heroes taught to us by Wiesel, Joseph Campbell, C.G. Jung, and Marie Louise von Franz, we persist in falsely identifying and projecting this archetypal pattern onto individuals whose frail shoulders will never carry these cultural and spiritual responsibilities?
Is the saga of Lance Armstrong yet another story in our cultural and psychological tendency to glorify and inflate and then take great pleasure in seeing the demise of our ill-fated “heroes”? In part, Armstrong’s story speaks to our illusions and mistaken ideas about the nature of the hero archetype. Unfortunately, these individuals, the great athletes, movie stars, members of the nobility, and all those others ask to carry the designation of “heroes”,often fall far from the grace of the Gods.
Have we as individuals and as a collective lost sight of the essential characteristics of the hero, or is it that we have yet to experience a human incarnation of this illusive, eternal figure? Are our current political and religious leaders worthy of the respect and admiration given to genuine heroes? Now with the fall of Lance Armstrong, we are yet again, left with three vital questions:
1) What is the effect on our psyches in continuing to
make these projections that do not fit?
2) What will it take for us to be much more discerning in attributing heroic values and virtues onto individuals?
3) What are the archetypal patterns of the hero that
we need to cultivate in our own life?
The Lance Armstrong story is also our story of an afflicted relationship to the hero archetype, and to life patterns we engage in when struggling to become and identify with this archetype. When the individual seeks to be like a God and exceed all human capabilities, we fly too close to the sun, and our wax wings will melt, and ultimately the life we have becomes tragic.
Armstrong has lost the respect of his family, friends and all the colleagues who he has implicated in this process. Perhaps we too as a collective have lost yet again, because our hero making machinery has not only supported, but subsidized all the lies which kept his need to win, and his doping practices veiled from the public eye. Many knew the truth of his actions, but to tell the truth would be to lose another of our propped up heroes? He is
our Humpty Dumpty on steroids who can ride like the wind or hit the ball even further out of the park. And then there are the football players, who enter the stadium like gladiators whose physical prowess may be even stronger than Zeus, and whose tackles cause more and more concussions. These are the athletes and games we see as wonderful, and encourage our children to emulate. Do we ever ask who buys the tickets for these events?
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is not what has already occurred but what lies in wait for us, and will be expressed through this never satiated need to fit yet another figure into this collectively derived, illusionary image of the hero. Here like the mythical Procrustean Bed we contort and mutate the realities of these figures to fit this pre-conceived image of what we believe a hero should be. However, like Icarus who sought to exceed the limits of his human condition, these false heroes will also fall. The deeper issue for Lance Armstrong and others like him really is not so much about the hero as it is about psychological inflation in striving so hard to be what one cannot be, and hoping to be like the Gods. It is from this lofty, inflated position that one will inevitably fall, and the higher the ascent, the greater and more tragic is the fall.
Ultimately the hero is an eternal, archetypal reality that needs to find its way into our life in a meaningful and profound way. Can we be the hero for our sons and daughters who see in us an ethical, moral and good person? Do we have the courage to be a midwife for our own destiny, and work to bring the life waiting in abeyance to fruition, and in so doing advance in some small way, the
individual and human condition?
If you are interested in understanding more about how this storyimpacts all of us on an individual and cultural level, join me starting Thursday, January 31, for a free 2-part teleseminar series:
“When the Fairytale Ends: Lies, LANCE & Life Patterns.”’
Together with Olympic Coach Hank Lange, we’ll employ Jungian and depth psychology to analyze the patterns at play in this complex saga. Register by emailing Assisi@together.net or calling (802) 254-6220 .
In looking at patterns, we see an incarnation and expression of
archetypes and spirit within the internal and external world. The specific form and design of these patterns gives voice to the reality of these underlying shapers of experience.
From the moment a dancer steps onto the stage, to the lyrical musings of a poet, and even to our most intimate of relationships, we find these highly stylized, patterns in our life. Joseph Campbell allowed us to see that one’s life is an unfolding of a mythic tale, and that our behaviors, choices and desires are expressions of these eternal traditions. It is through the recognition of the patterns we live by that reveals the nature of our particular relationship to spirit, soul and psyche.
Virtually everyone can identify patterns in their own life, and in many instances, we have to admit to those which do not serve us well. There are patterns of abuse, of addictions, patterns of relationships where “somehow” we find our self with the same type of man or woman, engaging in the same activities time and time again. And- we need to question how it is that these patterns have the capacity and strength to eclipse individual will and discernment, thus capturing the individual and collective psyche.
James Hillman often spoke of the archetype which had us, and perhaps this captures the reality of our relationship to specific archetypal patterns which keep us in a “Groundhog” day reality, where we are caught in a seemingly endless cycle of repetitions. So while we acknowledge the presence of these patterns in our life, we rarely want to admit that they often govern our life and seem recalcitrant to change.
It is the power of these archetypal patterns to both move life in the direction of spirit and soul as well as taking us down such twisted turns as we see in these serial murders that has captured my for the past twenty five years, and remains the subject of much of my work as a Jungian Analyst, consultant and Screen Play
In each of these blogs and the accompanying radio shows we will address specific aspects of the expressions of patterns in the psyche, literature, film and within the collective, with our invited guests. Topics to be discussed include:
*Identifying the Patterns we live by
* Patterns of relationships
*Patterns of career
*Patterns of Creativity
*Patterns of Evil
*Patterns of Spiritual Renewal
*Patterns of Money
I am very excited about this work and look forward to you joining us on this journey into the world of understanding the patterns which shape our life.
Michael Conforti, Ph.D. is a Jungian Analyst, and is the founder and director of the Assisi Institute. Dr. Conforti's work has resulted not only in a training institute based on his discoveries, but also the development of a new
discipline, Archetypal Pattern Analysis.